Biju Thomas, founder of Biju's Little Curry Shop, has been steadily growing his brand since opening his first fast-casual South Indian restaurant at 1441 26th Street in RiNo in 2014. In 2016, he added a second Biju's at 4279 Tennyson Street and also struck a deal with Whole Foods Market to open two walk-up kiosks inside the Whole Foods in Boulder and at Tamarac in south Denver.
The deal with Whole Foods is coming to an end, though, and Thomas will close both kiosks after lunch service on October 5 to focus on the placement of retail products and packaged foods. Thomas says the plan for the kiosks, which were a first for Whole Foods in any market, had always been short-term, to allow other local food producers the opportunity to take over the spaces. "The original plan was to be in there for six months to a year," Thomas notes. "We ended up staying a lot longer than I anticipated."
The reason for the extended stay, he adds, is that getting local vendors into Whole Foods proved complicated because of the company's strict standards for food sourcing and quality. But knowing that the gig was not permanent, Thomas was working on making introductions between Whole Foods and Denver-area restaurants to line up the next vendors.
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The kiosks at the two current locations, in addition to other Whole Foods Markets (in Belmar and the upcoming Union Station location, for example), will host the likes of Dae Gee (Korean barbecue), Etai's and Yellowbelly Chicken, all Colorado companies with multiple locations. Now that the system has been tested, new vendors will stay for several weeks to six months; the idea is to build in local ties with the grocery stores and restaurants so that lunch and dinner options will feel a little more familiar to customers.
The idea of partnerships between Whole Foods and Denver restaurants has recently expanded beyond kiosks, as Birdcall just announced that it will open a 100-seat restaurant, complete with 24 tap handles, at the new Union Station Whole Foods scheduled to open later this fall.
While Biju's will give ups its kiosk space, the brand won't disappear from Whole Foods. Thomas has created a new line of Indian spice blends and sauce packets that will soon debut not just in Denver, but all over the Rocky Mountain region. He's also planning to get placement of the products in other national retail outlets and is working on new brick-and-mortar restaurants outside of Colorado.
With spices and sauces in hand, will you be able to replicate a Biju's meal at home? A stop at the Berkeley or RiNo restaurants will still be your best bet, but a taste of South India will certainly be a good addition to the repertoires of home cooks.